Under Pressure (Book 3)
Veterinarian, Riley Scott can’t believe it when her dossier contains vouchers to Mexico to go cage diving with sharks. Sure she loves animals, but sharks? No so much. When she takes a closer look at the dossier and reads the fine print, she see’s there is also a voucher for her best friend, Cole Rayburn. What the heck? Why would her best friend be involved in her adventure? Sure he’s an athlete, who runs wilderness tours and is a white water rafting guide, but this trip is supposed to celebrate the second half of her twenties in an epic way—meaning, find a hot guy and have back bending sex before returning home. How the heck can that happen with her childhood best friend hanging around? Not that she really plans to have sex with anyone. After recently finding her fiancé in bed with his assistant, she’s over men.
Except when Cole takes his shirt off, and she see’s he’s filled out in all the right places, she can’t help but want a closer looked…touch. Too bad he’ll always see her as the chubby tomboy from next door. When she finds herself inside a shark cage and in his arms, she knows she has to do something about it.
Sure she’s worried about their friendship, but with the kind of pressure her body is under, she fears she could very well explode if she doesn’t release it. But what if she seduces her best friend and he rejects her. What if he doesn’t?
“I like the ocean, but come on. This is insane.” As the high-tech, custom-built catamaran rocks beneath my feet, I glance at my best friend, Cole Rayburn. With his head cocked playfully, he grins at me like I’m some sort of chickenshit. I smack him in the gut, but when my hand lands on a solid pack of muscles, it hurts me more than him.
When had Cole gotten so freaking hard?READ MORE
More importantly, why the hell am I noticing? This is my best friend we’re talking about here. Yeah, okay, I haven’t seen him shirtless in years, and he’s always been solid. But now he’s all muscle and power, deadly and fierce like one of the sharks circling our boat. Really, I shouldn’t spend one more minute thinking about his hotness. A couple more seconds, sure, but definitely not a whole minute. That would just be wrong.
Salt water splashes over me, and I push my damp hair from my forehead as I brace my legs. I glare at Cole. “Just because you’re an adrenaline junkie who likes to live every day on the edge doesn’t mean I’m not brave,” I say and look at the galvanized shark cage—a floating structure the staff promises me is safe. I give an unladylike snort. They assure me all they want. But I’m smart enough to know that once we’re all crammed inside like sardines, we’ll be dangling like bait.
I plant my hands on my hips and lift my chin. “I’m adventurous,” I add. I’m not. At. All. “This just isn’t my kind of adventure.” Heading back to our gorgeous Cape Town hotel and soaking up the seaside sun—yeah, now that I could definitely get into.
Which makes me wonder why the adventure dossier I received from one of my friends—thanks to a New Year’s Eve game we played—involved a trip to South Africa to go cage diving. With sharks. Big ones. Great white sharks, to be precise. Sure, I’m a veterinarian and love animals, but come on. I don’t operate on anything that has thirty-five thousand teeth and can swallow me in one swift gulp.
“It’s safe, Reesey Piecey,” Cole says, and I glare at him for using the nickname he gave me when we were sixteen and I was stuffing my chubby face with a bag of sweet, candy shelled chocolates. He was dating model-thin Jenny Garridy at the time. I used to call her the snake charmer. Then again, I had secret, hateful names for all his girlfriends, and believe me there were plenty of them. Weird that I can remember every last one and every freaking reason they were all wrong for Cole.
“Last I heard survival statistics were good. Not great, but good.”
“Cole,” I warn. Honest to God, we might be twenty-five now, but some things never change. Cole was always a kidder who liked to tease the hell out of me.
He laughs and drags me to him, the heat of his body doing the oddest things to me. Damn, maybe I shouldn’t have taken those two extra seconds to think about his hotness.
“I’m kidding. It’s one-hundred percent safe,” he assures me.
“I hate you,” I say. It’s a lie. We’ve been best friends since I skinned my knee on the playground and he helped me home, but right now he’s annoying me. And why doesn’t he put on a damn shirt already?
“Hate you, too,” he says, our usual endearment to each other when we mean the opposite. “You know I won’t let anything happen to you,” he says, his grin sliding into a concerned expression.
I give him a dubious look. Cole has always been there for me, but this isn’t a break-up, a skinned knee, or my parents going through a nasty divorce. It’s not the death of my sweet grandmother the night of the blackout during a wicked thunder and lightning storm, either. A shiver moves through me—the pets I care for at the clinic aren’t the only ones afraid of bad weather.
This is me, not-so-brave Reese Scott, jumping into the water with a handful of hungry sharks, and last time I checked, Cole was a lot of things, but a shark-fighter was not one of them. Which begs the question, why is he on this trip with me, anyway? Yeah, he’s an athlete who runs wilderness tours in Colorado, and he’s a level-six white water rafting guide, but this trip is supposed to be all about celebrating the second half of my twenties in an epic way—that is, finding a hot guy and having back-bending sex before returning home. How the heck can that happen with Cole hanging around? Not that I really plan on having sex with anyone. After getting dumped by my fiancé, I am so over men. Seriously, he thought I was trying to turn him into something he wasn’t? When did wanting to add a little fun and spontaneity to the relationship become me trying to change him? Jerk.
Cole, while he might be the epitome of fun and spontaneity, shouldn’t be here with me. I can stand on my own two feet without him hovering over me all the time, thank you very much. I have been doing it since he left New York to work in Colorado a year ago, right after I got engaged. He only returned home last month, temporarily leaving a job he loves to work with his uncle in construction to make ends meet while visiting—or rather, while keeping a close eye on me. But I can’t think about that right now because the captain is waving me over. Apparently, it’s my turn to jump to my death.
Even though my insides are in chaos, I try to appear calm, and take soothing breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth.
“Hey,” Cole says, and when I turn back to him, he’s standing over me, rubbing his knuckles over my arm in a comforting manner. Presenting composure—even though this is Cole, and nothing gets by him when it comes to me—I lift my chin to meet his gaze. When he turns those ocean-blue eyes on me, as deep and complex as the Atlantic waters crashing against the side of the vessel, I feel a measure of calm. Cole really is a good guy, a great catch. Why the hell isn’t he taken already?
Because he’s an adventure seeker and has no desire to get serious or put down roots.
Cole dips his head, and those kissable lips of his are right there, near my mouth. If I wanted to kiss him all I’d have to do is go up on my tiptoes. But I don’t want to kiss him. This is my best friend. I’m not sure why I suddenly need to keep reminding myself of that.
Get yourself together, girl.
“You’re in good hands. I promise,” he says as he continues to run his knuckles along my arm. Oh, he has good hands, all right. A shiver races down my spine.
What the hell? He’s touched me a million times and I’ve never gotten all tingly before—and what the hell is going on with my nipples? Seriously, enough already! Must be nerves from this adventure. Has to be. It’s the only logical explanation. Then again, it could be because I haven’t had sex in, like, forever.
“Come on—we need to suit up.” Cole holds my shoulders and turns me toward the back of the boat, where the crew and wetsuits await. He follows me closely, the warmth of his body chasing back the cold in mine. I stare into the water as I get sized for a wetsuit, boots, and hoodie. Cole and I both climb into the gear and listen to the instructions as we, and six other thrill-seekers step into the cage.
I rest my feet on the platform and move closer to Cole. He smiles at me and adjusts my eye goggles. The crew slowly lowers the cage into the water, the big white flotation devices attached to it keeping it buoyant. Our heads remain above surface, and I don’t have to hold my breath and dip under if I don’t want to, but I’ve come too far to back down. Plus, if I chicken out now, it will only give Cole ammunition, and he’s teased me enough for one day—in far too many ways. From the boat, the guide fills a rubber seal-shaped decoy with chum, and my stomach sort of turns. Great, any second now I’m going to lose two things: my lunch and my dignity.
Cole nudges me and points down. I submerge to see a big freaking shark, with big freaking teeth clamping onto the side of the cage. I panic, and I’m about ready to scramble back onto the boat when Cole wraps his arms around me and pushes upward until we burst through the surface.
“Oh my God,” I shriek.
“Pretty cool, right?”
“Cool?” Was he serious? “That scared the crap out of me.”
“Yeah, but now you know you’re safe. They can’t get in. Come on, let’s go back under.”
I mull that over for a quick second. I guess it was kind of cool, and the shark couldn’t get near me. I look at the structure surrounding me and feel a little more confident.
“Okay.” I suck in another breath and go under with Cole. He keeps his arm around me, and I slide mine around him to keep him close.
More sharks come, and while it is scary, it is kind of exciting, too. A shark hits the cage and it jolts me, but Cole is right there holding tight—protecting and helping me out—like always. I steal a glance and find him looking at me, not the set of teeth trying to get at us. He smiles, and it’s weird how my heart seems to skip a beat. I probably never would have climbed into this cage if it weren’t for him. Maybe I do need him more than I let on. Maybe that’s why the friend who drew my name sent Cole along—so I’d go through with it.
The truth is, I missed him so much when he left New York. His departure ripped my heart in two, but who was I to hold him back? Yeah, we were close, the tightest of friends, but I was engaged and he needed to find himself, live his own life.
Cole looks away, but before he does, I catch something in his eyes. Something that just might resemble…desire. My pulse jumps a notch and my entire body tightens. Confusing feelings surface, and I can’t believe how girly I am in my reaction to him.
You are a girl.
Not to Cole, though.
Surely I’m mistaken. Must be the water on my goggles, obscuring my vision and making me see things that aren’t there. Cole doesn’t think of me as anything other than the pig-tailed tomboy next door. And I don’t think of him as anything other than the scrawny boy who lived beside me—one who always protected me, helped me with everything, and grew into a smoking hot guy with a killer body that I suddenly can’t seem to keep my eyes—or hands—off of.
I stretch out on the catamaran, and I can’t help but smile at Reese as she bites into her chicken wrap and chews like she hasn’t had a meal in days. “Cage diving really builds up an appetite, huh?”
She nods, and her big brown eyes go wide. “That was actually kind of fun.”
“Want to do it again tomorrow?” I ask.
Her hand stills just as she’s about to take another bite. She lifts her head, but her act of bravado isn’t fooling me. “I would, but we’re hitting the Spookdraai hiking trail tomorrow. Then the day after we have that African wildlife tour and game drive safari. All part of my dossier, remember?”
I laugh and nudge her chin with my fist. “I remember. You were brave today, Reesey Piecey.” I gave her that nickname when we were kids, partly because her name is Reese and partly because she is as sweet as those little chocolate candies she’s always popping into her mouth.
“I’m brave every day,” she counters, then chews her sandwich. She swallows and adds, “I just don’t know why one of my friends would put me in a dangerous situation where I had to prove it. I mean, I like animals and all, but still.”
My gaze moves over her face as she takes a drink and continues to talk about this adventure she’s on. My stomach tightens as I listen. She always tries to present a brave face, but she doesn’t have to pretend anything with me. I know her better than she knows herself, and she’s been through a lot over the last few years, which makes me feel like a total and utter prick for taking off to Colorado. But fuck, how could I have stayed in New York? Watching her with that asshole Jared nearly fucking killed me. Every time he touched her, kissed her, walked into a room with her, it was all I could do not to punch him in the face. I never liked the guy. Then again, I never liked any guy she dated.
How could I, when I had a secret crush on her for years? But no way am I about to jeopardize our friendship by telling her. She thinks of me only as a friend, and I couldn’t risk losing her by spilling my guts. Besides that, I’m not the guy for her. She’s the white picket fence and family kind of girl, where I’m an adrenaline junkie out for the next adventure. There hasn’t been a guy in my family who could settle down, not even my father. Bastard left when we were just kids.
I toss the last of my wrap into my mouth and take a long pull from my water bottle. I shift and rest my back against the catamaran as we head back to shore. Around us, the others are taking their lunch to the back of the vessel to watch the video of the dive, but I’d rather hang out and enjoy the sunshine for a bit longer with Reese. I missed her so goddamn much when I was away.
“I want to hear me more about this pact you made with your friends,” I say. She’s told me bits and pieces, but I get the feeling she’s still holding information from me, which is weird because she tells me everything. Or at least she used to.
“What do you want to know?”
I lean into her, and when my leg touches hers, she flinches. The movement is slight, but I still notice it, even when others might not have. Okay, what the hell was that all about? When did she ever not want me to touch her? Shit, I hope she didn’t see the way I was looking at her earlier. Usually I can keep my shit together, but seeing her big eyes, wide and excited beneath the mask, looking so adorable as she faced a shark, fucked me over big time. All I wanted to do was pull her against me and kiss the hell out of her.
I clear my throat. “Well, Olivia ended up staying in Italy with Gio, and Kennedy hooked up with Sean in London and now the two are living together in Chicago. Are you all on a marriage quest or something?”
“Not…exactly,” she says and crinkles her nose.
“Then what exactly?”
She shrugs like it’s nothing, which makes me realize it is something. Now I want to know all the more.
“It’s silly,” she says.
She huffs. “You’re not going to let this go, are you?”
She throws one hand up in surrender. “Fine, we’re supposed to find a man and have epic sex. Those two girls had deeper feelings for the men they chose to have sex with—heck, they were already in love, which is why they’re still together after the adventure.”
My stomach punches into my throat. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Whose idea was this, anyway? Harper’s?” She always was the wild one in the group. She’d hit on me a few times, but I wasn’t interested. Sure, I fooled around. A lot. But that was only to try to keep my mind off Reece. Didn’t fucking work.
She nods. “Yeah, but we all agreed to it.”
I give a hard shake of my head, and my damp hair falls into my eyes. I shove it back. “No way are you having sex with some stranger, Reese.” Her gaze jerks to mine and she gives me a strange look. Shit. “You’re in a foreign country and it’s dangerous,” I add, to cover how I really feel.
“You’re right,” she says, a look of sadness on her face as she stares off into the distance. “I’m not.”
My stomach squeezes. Christ, I really need to beat the hell out of Jared for hurting her.
“Good,” I say. Tension eases from my shoulders to know she’s not going to do something dangerous. Christ, if she wants epic sex, I can give her that.
“And it’s not because it’s dangerous. It’s because I’m off men. Done with relationships.”
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I can’t stomach the thought of her with another man, but if she’s off men, done with relationships, then she’ll never be mine.
She’ll never be yours, anyway, asshole. She doesn’t like you like that, and you’re not the guy for her.
Still, Jared is definitely getting a beatdown when I get home. He’d hurt her so badly she no longer believes in true love and happily ever after. Fucker. Even if I were going to make a move on her, offer her epic sex, which I’m clearly not going to, I couldn’t do it now, anyway. Not when she’s hurting and still upset over the breakup.
Wanting to lighten her mood, I say, “Well, if you’re off men, at least you’re in the right profession.”
“What do you mean? How does being a veterinarian help me?”
“You don’t have to go far to start collecting cats.” She whacks me, but it does bring a smile to her face. Then, at the same time, we say, “Mrs. Jones.”
I shake my head. “That woman was bat-shit crazy.” Christ, when we were kids, we all used to take the long way to the playground to avoid her house at the end of the street.
Reese smacks her palm to her forehead. “God, I’m going to turn out just like Mrs. Jones, aren’t I?”
I nudge her. “Don’t worry. I won’t let that happen to you.” As the vessel reaches the pier, I grab our wrappers and package everything back in the box we were given. “I’m going to buy a video. Maybe we can watch it tonight.”
She nods and I reach for her hand to help her up. The boat sways, and her body collides with mine. I wrap my hand around her and feel the warmth of her skin beneath my fingertips. Fuck, she feels good. My cock thickens as her breasts push against my chest. She is so fucking perfect.
Her hands go around my back, and I become hyperaware aware that her tiny little bikini and my swim shorts are the only things separating us. What I wouldn’t do to feel skin on skin, to taste my way from her mouth to the spot between her legs. As my mind conjures the route my tongue will take, I harden even more. A strange, strangled sound catches in Reese’s throat, and I want to inch back and apologize. Would inch back and apologize, if I had any fucking blood left in my damn brain.
“Cole,” she squeaks, and the sound snaps me back to reality.
Back the fuck off, dude.
“Uh, yeah,” I say, but as I step away, I don’t miss the way her hands linger on my body, or the way her gaze dips to see me in all my hard glory.
She stares for a moment, a pink flush crawling up her cheeks. Her lips part, and her chest rises and falls as her gaze lingers. She’s fucking checking me out. The girl I’ve been crushing on since I was eight is checking me out.
I stand there and let her, but she can’t for one minute think she’s going to get an eyeful and I’m not. I take in those sweet, lush lips I want to suck on. My gaze drops to her breasts, a little smaller now that she lost so much weight. They’d fit into my mouth so nicely. I take in her tanned skin, the soft curves of her hips, and those long legs I’d cut off my left nut to feel wrapped around my back.
I slide my gaze back up, and when my eyes locks on hers, see the heat reflected there, I want to drop to my hands and knees and howl at the damn moon.
“Right this way, everyone,” one of the crewmember says, pulling me back from my fantasy—one that has been plaguing my dreams for years.
“We, ah…we should go,” I say, my voice an octave lower.
“Yeah. It’s a long drive back to the hotel.”
“Let me get that video, okay?”
Needing a reprieve so I don’t take her right here on the catamaran and ruin everything between us, I turn and leave her standing there. But when I feel her eyes drilling into me, I look over my shoulder and catch the way she’s staring at my ass. Son of a bitch. She’s still checking me out.
So, what am I going to do about that?COLLAPSE